A Constellation of Ghosts

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A ghost is not what you think it is, says Raven. A ghost is a commitment. When Laraine Herring receives an unexpected colon cancer diagnosis, her father, thirty years dead, returns to her as a raven, setting off a magical journey into complicated grief, inherited trauma, and ancestral healing. As she struggles with redefining her expectations for her life, she slips farther and farther underground into the ancestral realm, where she finds herself writing a play directed by her father-as-raven. It will be a cast of only four: you and me and my mother and my father, and we will speak until there are no more words between us, says Raven. And then you can decide the ending. Tick, tock, write. With one foot in her old life and one foot in the next, Herring grapples with how the silences around her father’s polio and the judgments of her fundamentalist grandparents shaped her, and as she wrestles with the uncertainty of her future, she must decide what to carry forward and what to leave behind. Utilizing speculative elements and an innovative structure blending lyrical prose with a script format, A Constellation of Ghosts takes the reader into the liminal spaces between one world and another, where choices unspool into lives, and the stories we’ve told ourselves fall apart under the scrutiny of multiple perspectives like flesh from bone, reminding us that grief is the unexpected ferryman who can usher all of us back together again.

Praise for A Constellation of Ghosts

“Laraine Herring has written a groundbreaking, breathtaking tour de force here, excavating personal and ancestral trauma as she blazes forth new possibilities for both narrative and healing. A Constellation of Ghosts is reckoning and revelation, deeply embodied, wholly visionary. This book is unlike anything you’ve ever read; this book will rock you to the marrow and leave you changed.”

– Gayle Brandeis, author of The Art of Misdiagnosis

“Gripping in its honesty, A Constellation of Ghosts is an incredible journey of self-discovery, revelation, mourning and healing. I am awed by the strength and courage it took to write such a raw, personal book.”

—Rick Hamilton, filmmaker and director (Seeing Glory) – Rick Hamilton www.rickhamilton.nyc

“Laraine Herring’s A Constellation of Ghosts endearingly broaches the borders between poetic prose and prose poetry—a vivid, insistent, lyrical memoir. Herring presses on our universal yearning to reconcile the curious pull of loved ones who have been gone for decades. Beautifully crafted, inviting, and playful, the book explores the imprint of family, one’s own mortality, and the ultimate gifts of grief. Her unusual story—in which it doesn’t even seem odd that ravens appear and speak—merges a lovely elegy for her long-gone father with the author’s illness, the need to move on from a long-held grief, and the lure of letting go.”

– Lisa Romeo, author of Starting With Goodbye, A Daughter’s Memoir of Love after Loss (University of Nevada Press, 2018)

A Constellation of Ghosts is unlike any book you have read or will read again. This genre-bending, lyrically beautiful, mind-blowing memoir uses the imagined to make way for deeper, underlying truths of fear and family and love (and the absence of) in the face of illness, uncertainty, displacement, and death. Through scripting of multi-generational voices—particularly, her deceased father in the form of a raven—Laraine Herring confronts the commitments we make to each other and those that grief, betrayal, and forgiveness make to us.”

– Melissa Grunow, author of I Don’t Belong Here

“As haunting as it is beautiful, Laraine Herring busts open the speculative memoir genre with A Constellation of Ghosts to show that even when we thought we had let go, the dead are always with us. Through rhythmic and poetic language, Herring hasn’t just created an engaging read, she’s invited the reader to come in and have an experience. So I don’t know which is more powerful here–the story or the writing. They both gave me chills. Because from rhyming ravens to poignant ghosts, Herring’s words enter into your bones, become a part of you, and will refuse to leave.”

-Chelsey Clammer, author of Circadian

“I read A Constellation of Ghosts in a rush, compelled, unable to put it down. A spiral that bores to the core of life and death, past selves, family wounds, and the relationships within family structures, Herring’s speculative memoir is fearless, moving, profound, and so full of love it overflows. Its real magic is the way it heals, bringing the reader to a still point where she finds herself home at last. This is memoir at its best.”

– Michaela Carter, author of Leonora in the Morning Light

“What’s the best way to grieve? We could conjure ghosts, write and re-write our stories, collect history, quantify, create rituals, let go of that balloon, promising us comfort, at  long last. Maybe our fathers will become ravens and speak to us until we no longer need them. Maybe we can sing a death lullaby, somehow putting our grief to rest. Through time, from her father’s quarantine and affliction with polio, to the horror of cancer, and myriad violences, Herring asks and answers the question of how to let go. She commits to it. A generous literary act.”

– Jenny Forrester, author of Soft-Hearted Stories

“From the moment her dad flies from beyond death to land in her life as a raven, Laraine Herring’s beautiful memoir embodies her familial ghosts with voices that sing a lament for generational conflicts, departures, illness and death. A brilliant book that pushes the boundaries of form, truth and language to a place that is wholly magical and illuminating. From a scholar of grief, A Constellation of Ghosts is a beacon for navigating loss that is nuanced and empowering.”

-Rebecca Fish Ewan, author of the cartoon/poetry memoir By the Forces of Gravity.

“Written with grace and beauty, this haunting memoir weaves Laraine Herring’s dual stories about her cancer experiences and grief over the death decades earlier of her father who’s returned to her in the form of a chain-smoking raven in the midst of her illness. This is no ordinary cancer or grief memoir. Herring’s prose shimmers as we journey with her through past and present in her deftly crafted linear and theatrical narratives that recount intergenerational trauma and ultimately love’s expansive power to heal even after death. This complex work will linger with the reader long after the last page is turned.”

-Christine Shields Corrigan, author of Again: Surviving Cancer Twice with Love and Lists, A Memoir